Wednesday, 7 September 2022
Questions without Notice
My question is to Minister Watt, representing the Minister for Early Childhood Education. Today, thousands of early childhood educators around the country have walked out of centres. The low pay and difficult conditions these workers are subjected to are a national shame. Educators deserve professional pay that reflects the skill and responsibility of the work that they do every single day. But instead of immediately committing the funding necessary to lift these workers wages, the Labor government is going ahead with the stage 3 tax cuts for the wealthy—tax cuts that economists tell us will overwhelmingly flow to men as well. Why is the government sticking with the obscene stage 3 tax cuts, when it should be using the money to lift wages of early educators and carers—who are mostly women?
Point of order: Senator Watt may well be quite willing to answer those bits within his portfolio, but a question on tax cuts, just because it is juxtaposed with a political statement about child care, does not make this part of the portfolio that Senator Watt is representing. If the senator wants to ask questions about tax cuts, there are representing ministers who can obviously be asked, but I make the point that the responsibility is not in the portfolio to which the question is addressed. Obviously, the remedy is the minister can answer the question insofar as it relates to the portfolio he's representing.
I do. This is a question about child care and childcare workers, early childhood educators and workers and their pay. If the minister who represents the minister for early education and care can't respond to that, then I'm not sure what to do about it.
Just a moment, Senator Wong. Senator Wong, please resume your seat. Senator Faruqi, that was not the totality of the question. The point of order made by Senator Wong went to the issue of tax cuts, which is indeed another portfolio holder. As you don't have a point of order, I'm going to go to Senator Watt now to answer whatever part of the question that relates to his portfolio. Senator Watt.
Thank you, President, and thank you, Senator Faruqi. Senator Wong, of course, is correct. If you go back and look at the question that was asked, it was about tax cuts; but I'm certainly happy to talk about early childhood educators—a group in our community who I very much value. Everyone on this side of the chamber very much value them. It's particularly appropriate that we talk about these issues today because today is of course Early Childhood Educators' Day. That's why, not long after question time, I and, no doubt, many of my colleagues here will be going to meet with early childhood educators on the front lawns of the parliament. I would certainly encourage every member of parliament to do the same thing.
Labor has long recognised the problems regarding the low pay of early childhood educators. I certainly know that from personal experience in terms of my children and the early childhood education they received. I've actually spent time in early childhood centres with educators, observing the work that they do, which is incredibly demanding and incredibly valuable—that's why they do deserve a pay rise. That's exactly why our government is committed to reinvigorating bargaining so that we can improve productivity but also grow wages, particularly in sectors like early childhood.
That's why our government has successfully argued for a pay rise for the lowest-paid workers in Australia—a pay rise, I might admit and acknowledge, that those opposite opposed. On 1 July this year, the Fair Work Commission minimum rates order increased pay rates in modern awards, including the Children's Services Award, by 4.6 per cent. That's something our government called for in a submission: a pay rise for the lowest-paid workers in our community, including early childhood educators. We know the work of women has long been undervalued, and that is definitely the case for the early childhood education and care sector, where more than 90 per cent of the workforce are women, and we will keep acting on this. (Time expired)
Minister Watt, in your own Facebook posts as far back as 2018, you've described early childhood educators as 'grossly underpaid' and identified the wage discrimination that exists for traditionally female dominated workplaces. You know that the pandemic and workforce shortages have made the crisis worse, so why have you given up? When will you commit? When will you commit to giving early childhood education workers the immediate pay rise that they deserve and make early education free for all? (Time expired)
Senator Faruqi, thank you for acknowledging my consistency of position when it comes to the fact that early childhood educators are grossly underpaid, something that the former government did absolutely nothing about and something, I might say, the Greens will never have the opportunity to do something about, not being a party of government. The only party that will ever be responsible for delivering a wage rise to early childhood educators is a Labor government, and that is exactly what we are doing right now.
This notion that we have given up on this issue could not be further from the truth. As I say, already since we have been in office, the Fair Work Commission minimum rates order increased pay rates in modern awards, including the Children's Services Award, by 4.6 per cent. That of course followed the Labor government making a submission to the Fair Work Commission, arguing for a pay rise for those lowest paid amongst our community. I am very happy to put my credentials as a supporter of early childhood educators up against any member of the Greens and any member of the opposition. I know that everyone on this side of the chamber would do the same thing. (Time expired)
Minister Watt, I have spoken with early childhood workers about the burnout that they are facing, their rising workloads and the low pay that is causing many to leave the sector. There is no time to waste on your vague plans and distant time lines. We need action and they need action right now. When will the government bring in legislation in this parliament to lift wages, to improve conditions and to deal with the critical workforce shortages in early learning and care?
I know that, whatever the issue, the Greens tactic is to get up and make speeches demanding something when it is actually Labor governments who deliver those things. For the third time, I can point out that in the very short time this government has been in office we have delivered a pay rise to the lowest paid in our community, including early childhood educators. It might suit the Greens frame to say that nothing is happening, but it has already happened, and we have been in office for barely 100 days. That's before we get to the changes to bargaining that we expect will make an even bigger difference to the lowest paid in a community, including childhood educators.
I don't just speak to early childhood educators; I am a member of the union that represents the early childhood educators, the United Workers Union, who have a proud record of backing in those early childhood educators for years with the support of Labor. We are already delivering and we will continue to do more because these people deserve a pay rise.